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Committee aims to make town more inclusive, accessible

By Staff | Jun 29, 2018

The Advocacy Accessibility Committee is making strides in helping the Shepherdsown community to be more inclusive for people with mobility impairment.

The nine-member committee met on June 20 at Town Run Tap House and Community Pub, in honor of the pub installing a new ramp for the mobility impaired.

“We have so many things we’re going to review,” said Committee Chair Jan Hafer, who said the group’s goal is for the town to be accepted into the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities.

During the meeting, the committee decided to develop an accessibility checklist, which can apply to basic accessibility needs most historic buildings do not meet.

The checklist, once finalized, will be available to community members and businesses to self-evaluate their buildings. Businesses that have completed the checklist will be given a sticker to post in their windows, so customers will know which businesses accommodate the mobility impaired.

A Facebook post by committee member Jennifer Wilkerson was the catalyst for the committee’s founding in 2017. Wilkerson uploaded a photo to the town’s page of her son, Ben, attempting to enter a local building with a power wheelchair. Ben has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“It’s to make the community more accessible to people like Ben and visitors, so we all feel welcome in Shepherdstown,” said Wilkerson.

Although developing the checklist is important, it is not part of the AARP application process which, according to Hafer, is fairly simple.

According to AARP’s website, “The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities is an affiliate of the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program.” The website says network membership is free.

“Communities in the AARP age-friendly network are not retirement villages, gated developments, nursing homes or assisted living facilities,” says the website. “Membership in the network does not mean that the community is, currently, ‘age-friendly’ or a great place to retire … What membership does mean is that a community’s elected leadership has made the commitment to actively work toward making their town, city or county a great place for people of all ages.”

One application requirement is a letter from the mayor, which committee and town council member Mark Everhart is currently working on with Mayor Jim Auxer. Auxer and the town council have supported the committee’s measures since it was started, including funding the committee with a $7,000 budget.

As part of helping the town become more accessible, the committee is working on making some downtown parking spaces accessible for wheelchair vans. Other items it hopes to accomplish soon include obtaining a grant to help property owners without the funds to repave their sidewalks, and buying a collapsible, lightweight wheelchair ramp for local businesses to borrow from the town.

The committee, which meets the third Wednesday of every month, welcomes new members. To find out more, contact Hafer at janhafer52@gmail.com.